The promise of an elite public university education for California's top high school students continues to fade as record numbers of qualified in-state applicants are being rejected from every UC campus they applied to.
Admission rates at UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara have plummeted to less than half of what they were in the mid-1990s, a new analysis by this newspaper shows. This year, 11,183 freshman applicants who qualified for UC admission had no offers from their chosen campuses and were referred to UC Merced, the Central Valley campus that opened in 2005.
Some strove mightily and successfully in high school but found their aspirations opened few doors.
Aman Shergill -- an A student who juggled an after-school job with a boatload of Advanced Placement classes and extracurricular activities -- applied to seven UC campuses and got into one: UC Santa Cruz.
"It was within two weeks that I got all my rejections. It was pretty bad," the Folsom teen said. "I just thought that with what I had done and all my hard work, I was hoping for a little more."
Every year, more college-bound Californians feel the sting of rejection as spaces for the state's college-bound students lag further behind the soaring demand for Cal and other popular UC campuses.
The ease of applying to many campuses online, the relatively low sticker price for in-state students compared to private colleges and population growth have radically changed the outlook for applicants. Growing numbers of out-of-state and international students, who pay nearly three times the tuition and fees, also fuel the competition for a spot in the class.
By Thursday, students must make the difficult decision about where to go in August. UC Berkeley gave thousands of fall applicants another option to consider: Wait until the spring term for a spot, when graduating students free up more space.
The options are more limited than parents and educators from past generations might assume, one expert said.
"Students need to be exposed to the truth," said Lisa Garcia, director of outreach projects for USC's Pullias Center for Higher Education. "I tell all my students, even the valedictorians, 'You can't just apply to Berkeley and (UCLA) and San Diego and Santa Barbara.'"
Excellent grades, solid SAT scores and a long list of activities these days might not be enough to get you noticed by Cal, which turned away some 20,000 more applicants this year than Stanford, the nation's most selective campus.
Berkeley's admitted class, as described in a campus announcement, included national robotics and debate winners, "a ballerina who has danced internationally," Junior Olympics athletes, a Disney Channel series actor and "musicians, dancers and other artists who have performed at prestigious venues around the world."
Cal's in-state freshman admissions rate for the fall -- 40 percent in the mid-1990s -- has fallen to 13.5 percent, with another 5.3 percent of applicants given a spot in January.
In the past two decades, as the number of Californians at Berkeley has remained flat, the school more than tripled its enrollment of out-of-state and international freshmen in 2012, enrolling about 1,150 in a class of 5,070.
And last month, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced the campus would increase the non-Californians' proportion among undergraduates from 20 to 23 percent.¿ "In order to sustain the excellence of our programs and the student experience, tuition from out of state and international students is crucial," he wrote in a letter to the campus explaining the decision.
UC charges in-state students less than $13,000 per year in tuition and fees, but students from outside the state pay more than $36,000. Stanford's sticker price is even higher: $44,184 next year for undergraduate tuition alone. It admitted just 5.1 percent of freshman hopefuls this year.
Of course, freshman applications aren't the final word; some students transfer in as juniors. But the transfer admission rate to Berkeley dropped to about 21 percent last year compared to about 33 percent in the mid-'90s.¿
That added up to a double rejection for Jeremy Kaetzel, of Oakland, who applied to Cal as a high school A-student involved in the performing arts and a mentor at his church -- and again this year from Merritt College.
Happily for Kaetzel, UCLA admitted him last month. After more than two years and recent months of excruciating anticipation, he is finally into the University of California. His Berkeley rejection stung, he said, but made his decision much easier.
"On my calendar, I've had September blank for the longest time," he said. "I'm starting to put in dates, which is a good feeling."
Follow Katy Murphy at Twitter.com/katymurphy.